This originally appeared on misteragyeman.blogspot.com on September 12, 2014.
Civilization as we’ve known it in the urban, metropolitan, Western sense, is defined by one resource above all others: space. A very good percentage of our innovation goes to maximize space: the skyscrapers, the greenhouses, the transportation. Especially in transportation. Soon, they say, we’ll have planes with seats that support you at a 75-degree angle, securely strapped in. It might have up to three times the capacity, but I fear it will not gain the support of the Mile High Club.
Trotros don’t give you much space, especially the ones that have the extra row of seats installed. But by forcing us into disco-floor intimacy, trotro economics exploit price-volume dynamics to turn a little profit with lower fares. Then the recent fuel price hikes have combined with serious car-to-road overpopulation to give these shared buses new importance. They even got rebranded to appeal to the urban youth. Now they are called ‘troskis’ with crazy paneling and killer subwoofers; even the creaking is more polished.
A year ago, I would have ranked the troski with the guillotine and Chloroquine. A teacher once told me that tall people had their bones broken when they were buried; nobody gets more than six feet, he said. With what happens to my kneecaps in trotros, I can believe it. When I exit a trotro, my first few steps cause the observer to suspect my blood alcohol level isn’t on the level. But now I bear my cross with dignity; I even learned the secret hand signals.
Trotros provide an excellent seat for the drama of life. You see the loners, the couples, the saints, the drunks. You get all sorts of interesting sounds and smells and spectacles. A woman once brought a full dinner out of her bag, and bought some pineapple from a hawker to finish it off. That ticks all three sensory boxes. She looked so motherly, you couldn’t hate her for it. Otherwise I would have released the standard Trotro Glare- you know, that look that preaches hellfire to those who step out of line. It would be simpler to say, ‘Ma, it is never pleasant watching somebody eat okro soup, especially out of a rubber.’ But this is not done. If you dared to, you would find yourself on the receiving end of the Glare.
It’s interesting how random collections of people immediately become a sovereign nation of 12 to 20 people when they are shut up in a rickety car, with nothing in common but their destination. There’s a definite trotro culture, and it’s important to learn its rules before you get in.
Most important of these- the language. It’s a simple language. It has only one element: the Trotro Poke. (I should do a poster- “Troskis: Poking Before It Was Cool.”) You get poked in the small of the back; you turn your head and find money waving at you. You pass it to the mate, and jerk your thumb back to show who sent it. Then you get poked again; this time, you presumed to make yourself comfortable on your seat, forgetting that there are human legs propping you up from behind. Normally if you massage somebody’s kneecaps so intimately, they would scream and knock you. This is not done in troskis. You get the Poke. And another; this time, somebody’s bus stop’s coming up. You could poke them in the back as they pass, just to say goodbye. Possibly soon this custom will be established. Currently, it is not done. Perhaps they fear that some would take advantage. If you remember, this was why the venerable institution of ‘For The Last’ was removed.
Trotros give you real drama. I’ve seen a few relationships blossom on the Tema-Accra motorway; I’ve seen a mate turn the bus into a primary-school classroom with his ‘Good Morning’ and his little prayer; I’ve paid money to a funky character in red bow-tie, suspenders and knee-high socks. I prefer the nice surprises, like when you discover that the lady next to you is playing Satchmo in her earbuds; when frail old ladies trustingly give both arms to the mate, who invariably helps them down with the loving care of a pet nephew; and when you sit down and you get an especially vigorous Poke, and turn and see the smiling face of an old friend. This last one is especially enjoyable, but the greatest thing that happens on troskis is the honesty.
There’s a lot of motive for deception in trotro transactions. First of all, it’s hard to shake the suspicion that mates are disadvantaged in mathematics. With or without education, they shoot this theory full of holes, but it stays at the back of the mind. So there’s that. Then also, there’s a lot of people, a lot of money, with different rates for different distances. How hard would it be for a passenger to slip out a note as they’re passing the money on, and leave the mate to wonder who’s lying? And I’ve seen people lie about where they got on, how much change they should get, or if they paid already. But this happens way less than you’d think. That says very nice things about us members of the Troski Nation.
I appreciate mates even more for being honest. Once a lady dropped a bundle of twenties. I noticed, but the mate got there first. He gave her the Poke and politely inquired if she was actively trying to reduce her burden of wealth. The lady graciously explained that she could handle the weight, thank him very kindly. You know that kind of gratitude you feel toward people who are nicer to you than they need to be? I have that much respect for mates, enough that I forgive their lapses. Now, in a coup worthy of Tom Sawyer, the crafty drivers are getting rid of their assistants and bestowing honorary Matehood on passengers. And like Tom Sawyer’s young business partners, the passengers are tickled, looks like. Ghana’s answer to the Oyster Card? The future looks interesting for troskis.